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Sheffield Hallam Learning Resources and Activities case study

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 4 months ago
Sheffield Hallam learning resources and activities case study
Steve Spencer Richard Poutney
Author: Steve Spencer (with Richard Pountney)


CASE STUDY COVER SHEET Sheffield Hallam LRA case study cover sheet.doc




1. Why did you use this e-learning approach?


The focus for this case study is the integration of video texts into content and delivery, providing examples which illuminate issues in Qualitative Research Methods at Masters level. The e-learning aspect follows from three routes for the access of visual material:


1. Through the accessibility of the video material via the Helix Server at SHU

2. The development of a dedicated website hosted by C-SAP

3. The gradual accumulation of relevant video and still material from my personal research or from a growing collection of online visual material (primarily on YouTube, Google Video and NewfilmOnline).


The visual demonstration of research was hoped to have certain benefits:


1. Emphasise the importance of striving to achieve validity in one's interpretation of the social world.

2. Highlight the interpersonal aspect of eliciting information, the cultural and social barriers, the communication problems and issues which arise.

3. Highlights the ethical dimensions of fieldwork and the consequences of choices and decisions made.


2. What was the context in which you used this e-learning approach?


This visual e-learning approach was employed within Qualitative Research Methods (level 1 and 2) Master's level modules within the MA in Social Science Research Methods (Social Policy/ Sociology). This programme consists of 60 credits of generic skills training in qualitative and quantitative research, 60 credits of subject specific material in research design and social theory, and a 60-credit dissertation within the student's area of specialisation. The use of visual teaching materials was employed in the Qualitative research module components (see list qualitative_research.doc).


The students pursuing this Masters programme typically include a few internal applicants (several from research centres and administrative areas in the university), a small number of overseas students (in the last 2 years there have been students from Cuba, Libya, Greece, China, Korea, Pakistan), students from Sports and Tourism courses at Sheffield Hallam University, and a number of others from Applied Social Studies (a typical cohort is around 20-25 students with some students taking part in the module at both level 1 and 2).


Teaching in this area I had previously given examples from the literature making less use of my own research material. The lack of convincing field work examples (or perhaps my lack of ability to bring examples from literature to life) may have given the students less confidence in the relevance of the approach to research being conveyed.


Being able to draw on visual evidence of my research gave me greater confidence in addressing first-hand the issues students faced as they embarked on research – not in the sense of being an ‘expert’ researcher but one who had encountered some of the attendant issues, problems and decisions. Further it allowed an obvious inclusion of a critical appraisal of visual research methods.



3. What technologies and/or e-tools were available to you?


Short video cases were produced on diverse issues including: media representations of the Iraq war, homeless Aboriginal people in Darwin, studies of moral panics and multiculturalism. Some professional assistance was sought to obtain higher quality in camera work and sound (while I managed the digital editing). These digital video sequences were placed onto the Helix Server (see Fig 1 where hyperlinks to the server are provided on a PowerPoint slide for convenience) and also onto a website hosted by C-SAP which can be accessed at:


These materials were used interactively in lectures and workshops and were available on BlackBoard sites for the module also. In addition a thematic collection of relevant video links in the public domain (You Tube, Google Video Newsfilmonline etc) was developed and used selectively.



4. What was the learning design?


Drawing on conceptions of visual pedagogy (eg. Goldfarb 2002) and the potential for transformative education and employing broadly constructionist paradigms of social thought and with some consideration of the complex issues of representation and visual ethnography in research (eg. Banks, M, 2000 and Pink, S, 2007). The design of these resources stems from the gradual recognition of the potential for a visual sociology prefaced on a relational view of social reality and identity construction. 

The e-learning approach was one which was integrated fairly seamlessly into the existing teaching approach  – typically using PowerPoint and embedding the clips into the presentation. For students who are engaged in research of various kinds (particularly forms of ethnography) these illustrative examples, accessed both in the format of class delivery or privately via Blackboard, presented examples of fieldwork issues, ethical dilemmas, interview approaches and problems, problems of interpretation, the value and use of case studies, and the benefits, problems and implications to the use of visual methodologies. The intention was to evoke for students the nuances of the issues and problems faced, the immediacy of interpersonal communication and the attempt to elicit a 'thick description' of the place, people and events being studied.



5. How did you implement and embed this e-learning approach?


An Action-based approach to research (see model below) was used to align relevant research with needs for teaching and personal development as well as more general trends in social research and initiatives within the Faculty of Development and Society at Sheffield Hallam University.


The results of these small integrated pieces of research were disseminated at LTA conferences, C-SAP conferences, and other conferences in Europe and USA. Some of the content was used in publications listed in the Bibliography below. A Model for Teaching-Based Action ResearchBecause of the simplicity of the format of the streaming video material very little additional support or training was needed (although as stated technical assistance and partnership lead to the productions themselves and post production advice from technicians was also vital).


The collection of Online Visual Resources (Sociology, Politics and Culture) is currently merely listed alphabetically by themed area – but the resource would clearly by better presented as a wiki file, and this is being planned for the near future, this would allow a more general access, shaping and growth of the resource.


However a recent challenge to the use of Google video links has arisen in the light of the possibility of inciting copyright infringement. Therefore a non-copyright collection is being produced.


The visual material was integrated into the modules' content , in particular addressing the following issues as described in the Learning Outcomes:


- professional codes of conduct 

- negotiate access, conduct and transcribe ethnographic interview

- reflect critically on their own choices, approaches and performance

- developments in participant-observation, case study techniques*, life histories and work histories

- documentary and media research and textual analysis or performance analysis

- distinguish different types of interview

- current theoretical and epistemological debates concerning qualitative research




Academic targets which are addressed include a local LTA target No. 3 to:


Develop a range of learning contexts & models to meet the needs of a diverse student population & provide opportunities for culturally-diverse learning experiences.


Working with a number of representatives of local communities required some preliminary meetings and discussions before contributions were made onto video. The continued  trust and connectedness of these groups is important and there is the need to maintain these contacts. One way forward has been to present to the Sheffield Hallam University African Caribbean Society and to elicit feedback on the development of the video sequences at different stages in its development. The work with the Aboriginal community at One Mile Dam demonstrates how research and teaching contexts may also have a social justice dimension. This vulnerable group (in danger of eviction) were able to use the research article and images on their website to publicise their case. See eg. the following links:




Also see the letter of support from the author which was posted on the community web site:




There has been dissemination of video resources in Australia (Murdoch University) interest was expressed in the interview with Prof Critcher on moral panics. In the USA (St Francis College Brooklyn) where Under the Skin was shown in March 2007, it is apparently being used in teaching of the sociology of race and ethnicity. In Spain (University of Zaragoza) where Dr David Baringo was very interested in pursuing a similar methodology, and in Italy as a result of a 2006 Conference of the International Visual Sociology Association in Urbino, the web site and slides have been of interest in the development of visual sociology.




      Sample materials used which draw upon the video and stills to illustrate Qualitative Methods examining case   

      study approach, Critical Discourse Analysis, reliability and validity











      Difficult conditions in an informal 'itinerant' camp near Darwin  - stark contrast to the tourist images of Aboriginality

      and the lucrative tourist market in Aboriginal artefacts and paintings.


6. What tangible benefits did this e-learning approach produce?





  • a general increase in the interest expressed by students in visual methods, at master’s level


  • the developing repository of video links has helped to enhance the value of using small amounts of video to a broad range of staff in our faculty and across the university as well as nationally through the C-SAP Sociology Reference Group
  • students who have been exposed to critical approaches to visual research are more likely to become what bell hooks (1997) has termed ‘enlightened witnesses’ – i.e. better able to recognise agendas which the popular media (and often the government of the day which has increasingly close links with media sources) presents through visual representation of issues (e.g. ideas of ‘death of multiculturalism’ or the necessity of a ‘war on terror’)
  • there are signs that some staff are availing themselves of the opportunity to develop basic skills in video production being offered on campus (e.g. a successful programme ‘User’s as Producers’ gives academic staff the basic skills in video production)
  • the video sequences (Under the Skin) are being used by colleagues in Sociology as well as by others in Urban and Regional Studies, Education and Cultural Studies
  • an important benefit is the development of a more active research culture at department and faculty level which in turn encourages students as scholars.
  • sociology is a moral discipline and a partly realised benefit is that this approach has assisted a social justice agenda, vulnerable groups like those who contributed to the video sequences have actively used images and articles from the production to support their case for remaining on the contested home site
  • The interest and active use of the resource by universities in US, Australia, and in Spain is a benefit which demonstrates the universal appeal of the materials and the method of integrating visual culture into the research process.
  • finally - the development of these technologies is an important aspect of ongoing professional development, allowing lecturers to demonstrate their research honestly to wider audiences and perhaps with wider appeal.


Students on the MA Qualitative Research module said the following: 



  • "I found the use of visual material within the class very useful as it frames the research well and gives context which can only allow for a greater understanding and a step, for the researcher, towards that in which it seeks to understand/explore and gain insight into. For pupils wishing to gain an understanding of qualitative research this is an excellent way to teach, the research becomes real and as a student with qualitative research interests visuals like those used by yourself, only gain your attention, and most definitely, your excitement."


  • "Sometimes I find it easier to retain information on a topic if I have a visual memory of it . Also, I believe the visual representation of a topic can provoke an emotional response within an individual which in  turn helps them connect with the subject and stimulate interest.  I am very much in favour of video/ visual methods within teaching, and I think it should be used more frequently."


  • "I did find the use of video materials in class this year to be really useful, I think what I most vividly remember was the video on aboriginal communities that you had made. I think when a case study is introduced and discussed in class and then supplemented with a video it resonates much more, I suppose for the obvious reason that you can see some of the features discussed demonstrated in front of you and it allows the viewer to form an opinion on the strength of evidence, for example you can read about the marginalisation of aborigines but I now can actually visualise examples of it with the footage of people in communities literally on the fringes of society and contrast it with the images you see from the 'other side' of aborigines getting drunk, during the day on the side of the street. I also enjoyed the video of public attitudes on the Iraq war in Sheffield, I think it's too easy to talk about public opinion sometimes and it's a good reminder when you actually listen first hand to a member of the public's opinion and everything that comes with it, the naturalness of the guy you talked to on the Moor, being I suppose initially flattered that his opinion was sought and then it became a bit of a platform for him to put the world to rights. That example brought out aspects of say interview technique that would be very hard to get across on paper, when I was doing some interviewing for the diss I realised that you don't get this perfect interview where you can control all the topics to be discussed, to get to the things I was looking for it helped to allow the interviewee to talk about the things they wanted first."





7. Did implementation of this e-learning approach have any disadvantages or drawbacks?


There are a number of potential problems with the production and use of visual ethnography:

·         The production of original material requires technical knowledge and is time consuming.

·         Visual methods of research entail many problems; they can be inappropriate and intrusive, require lengthy periods to build trust, and are best used in a collaborative fashion which can take much longer.

·         Visual evidence may give the illusion of objectivity – but research suggests that the visual is as prone to bias and distortion as other approaches (and has the added problem that people are less critical of photographic media).

·         Need to be used in conjunction with other forms of evidence in research.

·          Needs to complement other texts when used in teaching and to encourage reading (not as a substitute for it).

·         May encourage a passive form of learning if not used interactively and in conjunction with developed teaching strategies

·         In terms of the use of other visual resources such as online video clips there are issues of copyright and their use on and off campus is uncertain and must be carefully considered. Even where local permission and institutional policy allow the use of such materials they may not be dependable resource   links may disappear as they are withdrawn due to legal challenges to their public use.

·         These, however are not insurmountable problems – merely ones which must be taken into account and addressed – as most of them already have been.



8. How did this e-learning approach accord with or differ from any relevant departmental and/or institutional strategies?


The move towards adopting more audio-visual modes of delivery in lectures and through Virtual Learning Environments is certainly a growing trend. Some colleagues are also producing video resources to be used in conjunction with traditional lecture materials or as stimuli for seminars or assignments, these are often sourced from existing off-air recordings or increasingly from online sources like YouTube. The Joint Fellowship project I initiated (Under the Skin) received funding from the Learning, Teaching and Assessment section of the university – which demonstrates that it was in step with institutional objectives.


9. Summary and Reflection


Overall the use of digital video is beneficial as long as the design of the resource and integration into teaching is carefully considered.

This visual approach is complex, and can be time consuming but the benefits to social scientists are many. As Simmons suggested in a recent article:

'...interactivity and visuals in online materials increase opportunities for learning but also simultaneously introduce complexities.'


Personally I have learned the need to consider the use of video carefully in both research and teaching to ensure an ethical and appropriate use of the resource to demonstrate quality of research and demonstrate the theoretical issues in research methods – particularly the importance of using several methods to strengthen the validity of the interpretation of social reality.


In this case the students valued the graphic examples which posed very different cases from those they might have been pursuing, but perhaps as a result threw the approaches to research and the difficulties of validation, accessibility and ethical dimensions into sharper relief. Pedagogically the opportunity to critically view the subjects of research and how they reacted to being interviewed was invaluable and exposed their reactions to questions, the power and immediacy of their narratives, and at times the problems of misinterpreting the social context, asking inappropriate or poorly formed questions.


Further - the value of hypermedia approaches in teaching is beginning to be recognised and adopted by lecturers. Innovations like making short videos to illustrate research methods and specific case studies are more attractive with the advent of new and more user-friendly technology minimising the need for expert assistance.  Thematic collections of online visual resources offer the most immediate resource for lecturers and students as long as copyright issues are clarified.




Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 2:11 pm on Jul 10, 2007

A few observations:
Section 5 What are the academic targets you helped meet? Did connecting to other universities have any tangible benefits? I would like to see more about the engagement with community groups as this is a big agenda for HEFCE at the moment so anything you can add would be useful.
Section 6 Do you have any quotes from the students? Are there any figures from student satisfaction surveys etc that show an improvement? Can you expand on the reuse of the material in other departments. What are the total numbers of students using the resource? Is there any clear evidence of the more active research culture e.g. more publications etc

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